Three seemingly different artists came together on Saturday night to talk about what it means to have a career in music in 2011. But they have more in common than most people think –so much so that Raphael Saadiq, Moby and Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio/Maximum Balloon) were exchanging contact info after the event! It would be incredible if KCRW’s keynote at the Pop Conference inspired some collaborations but I’d be happy with just what we heard tonight – insightful knowledge and a great sense of humor about the music business. (particularly from Sitek, who KCRW’s social networking guru Betsy has dubbed a “comic genius”).
They all agreed on two things — aspiring artists should focus on making better music and that flexibility is key.
Some of my favorite moments came when they talked about music they loved. Saadiq said he got a lot of inspiration from New York City hip hop when R&B got “cheesy.” Moby talked about why TV on the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” was produced perfectly, albeit unconventionally. He even called it courageous because by choosing to ignore the norm, the band didn’t compromise the emotional integrity of the song. (He also names his heroes of the 20th century: John Lee Hooker, Marcel Duchamp and George Gershwin)
TVOTR’s Sitek gave a shout out to a KCRW favorite, Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”, saying its always stuck in his head despite there not being a “single moment of tenderness in the whole song.”
Sitek says as far as making music today there are no boundaries anymore –“no more exclamation points, just one big question mark.”
Jason Bentley moderated the panel and mentioned that they are all “multi-hyphenates” – producers, remixers, and DJs along with being solo artists and/or band members.
Moby explained it simply by saying he can’t sing very well, can’t dance and is not very attractive so he learned to “do all the things musicians do besides those things.” He also said they all compliment his creative side as an artist. For example, being a DJ shows him how music exists in a practical way in people’s lives and what they respond to.
Saadiq agreed, saying that producing another artist is good practice. “For me producing is the best thing…you gotta be able to shoot from anyplace on the court”
Jason asked about pivotal moments in their careers. Saadiq talks about deciding to go it alone as a solo artist after Lucy Pearl. Sitek and Moby returned to their love of punk, both saying that hardcore convinced them that anyone could be in a band.
Sitek says they didn’t start TVOTR to start a band. Tunde Adebimpe was his roommate and he wanted to learn how to use Pro Tools so they just started making songs and made it all up as they went along.
“To this day, the five of us as a band have practiced 20 times in 10 years,” said Sitek. “I think every member of TVOTR is in denial to varying degrees about being in a band”
They all had something to say about record labels:
Moby said that “for 99% of musicians, signing to labels is a terrible thing to do.”
“Music is precious but labels aren’t precious.” (later he said pirated music is a good thing, because it means someone has made an effort to hear what you’ve done.)
But Sitek took it a step further, saying labels are run by shareholders and people looking to sell the next ringtone, instead of people who actually care about music.
Saadiq added that major labels should go back to following the Chess Records model and be smaller and more manageable.
Jason’s first question was how do they measure success and it’s a great way to end:
Saadiq said it hasn’t changed since he played the talent show in 7th grade. It’s all about playing in public and hearing people scream. He says even playing with Mick Jagger at the Grammys can’t beat the first time he experienced that feeling.
For Sitek, it’s “keeping the landlord off your back…doing what you love and still having electricity.” He says he looks at the people he gets to work with and is still in awe.
Moby said his idea of success is when you’ve made something you love and someone else has an emotional reaction to it. Adding later that “the world needs and benefits from beautiful music.”
Photos and video coming soon!
Side note: Sitek talked about how he joined Jane’s Addiction (at least in the studio, he’s not going on tour with them) When Duff McKagan left the band, he was already in the studio helping with their new album and ended up becoming their bass player. He started by playing one of the two songs of theirs that he knew — “Mountain Song” — and the band joined in. He said they never really discussed anything but continued jamming and “coming up with crazy stuff” and are now weeding through it all to put an album together.